Time to ‘fess up straight away. I feel sad that this old stadium has now been earmarked for demolition after Atletico decamped to their new home at the Wanda Metroplitano. I’ve been to games at the Camp Nou many times and – for the main part – watched Barca triumph, and for sure enjoyed the entertainment. For me though it was almost always a scripted sort of fare, as with a theatre, you are promised a quality delivery and get it. Everyone expected a certain outcome, and that’s what happened. There was no glory in the unexpected, no hopes to be fulfilled, and hardly a fear of disappointment. But, on a November day in 2015, I experienced something entirely different at the Vicente Calderón, and that’s why it will always have a place in my heart.
You could catch a metro to the stadium, and alighting at Piramides, mingle with the Rojiblanco fans, on the walk to the stadium. Along the way, there are a number of small bars where you can buy oversize glasses of beer and sit outside chatting with the other fans. Again, unlike fans at Barca, where ‘smart casual’ is the overwhelmingly dominant dress code, wearing of colours at the Calderon is definitely de rigeur and it all adds to the atmosphere.
Walking around the final corner, you come to the stadium, but ahead of that you can hear the chanting from a couple of streets away. Forget maps. Following the crowds and following the noise, you couldn’t go wrong. Already it felt more like a passion play than a theatre. Closing in on the stadium via a wide closed off roadway, you get the sense of an occasion. There’s a nervous excitement.
As is the way these days, entry is via an auto-read barcode, but that’s about the only concession to the non-traditional there. Once through the turnstiles, you climbed the stairways and ramps to your seat, glancing out of the wide terraces at the red and white sea of fans still coming in. You could hire a cushion for one euro, but why would you? When you get to the seats though, you knew why. Across the stadium, where the back of the seats meets the part you sit on, grass is growing through the gap. This is football though, so sit down and enjoy the game.
In fairness, the Calderon is not that old, and was only opened in 1967, originally named the Estadio Manzanares, for the river that flows nearby. Broadly speaking, the stadium is a sweeping ‘U’ shaped bowl of seating, surrounding one side – the ‘Lateral’ – and both ends of the pitch, with a squared-off stand opposite. This is the relatively ‘posh’ end – the ‘Prefencia’ – and the only part of the seating protected from the elements.
I have often likened the Calderon to a not-so-young lady; someone still full of life though, who loves a party and is prepared to give her all at any opportunity. It was a setting where people let their passions rip. It was their release and the team – especially the manager at the time – reflect that mood and the stadium wraps it all up superbly well. The aristocrats of Los Blancos would – and often do – feel out of place here, but for Atleti fans it is home. Dating the party girl is exhilarating.
For that reason, many fans were against the move to the new stadium. Home is where the heart is, and for the best part of fifty years home has been the Calderon. The Asociación Señales de Humo (Atletico Supporters club) feel the move has much to do with money, and that the club will conversely be poorer – both financially and emotionally. Time will tell, but I’m sure there’ll be more than a few Atleti fans lamenting the loss of the Vicente Calderón Stadium. They’ll miss the party girl. Just like me.
(This article was originally produced as part of the ‘Stadia’ series for These Football Times).